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GUEST POST: Youth Group Double-Dipping

 —  January 27, 2013 — 26 Comments

I’ve been there. You’ve probably been there as well.

A young person arrives to your youth group for the first time with one of their friends, a regular. Your eyes light up. A NEW KID! She is strangely familiar with what goings on, even paying attention to your inspirational talk, but you just read that as unbridled teen confidence.

Then, over the usual youth minister/teen small talk you discover a disturbing fact. This bubbly teen normally goes to another church. What do you do?

I wish there were an easy answer. I wish there was a chapter in the youth minister’s handbook which gave you a step-by-step guideline.

If we’re honest, this can be an issue we sidestep since, if a teen from another church comes “every so often” then it bumps up our attendance. If we’re underhanded then these types kids can be sort after and pursued by our flashy advertising and subtle “encouragement” to “check out what we do.” But as servants of Christ, we must be guided by openness and honesty; for the teen and both churches. Deception or lying will do no one any good.

The first thing to be determined are the intentions of the teen. Is she just checking out the youth group, but has no intention of “jumping ship?” Second, you need to work out the situation of the home church. Is she visiting because your church provides something which her church, for whatever reason, doesn’t or can’t? Are there underlying problems which have prompted her to consider moving? Third, you should try and discern the teens heart.

Over time, does it become clear that she is just wanting to feed her personal preferences?  Will she attend whatever group is more exciting or stimulating and given week? Given some of these answers… Do you ever drive her away from your front door? I don’t think so, but we should be aware of some of the land mines which lay ahead. For, eventually, the hard questions will need to be asked.

  • Where is she going to connect and serve, using the gifts and talents which God has given her?
  • How does her indecision effect those around her? Does it decline their commitment and set a negative example for younger kids?
  • By going to both group, but not grafting herself to either, is she getting adequate pastoral support?
  • Is she weakening one or both faith communities by not committing to either?

For double dipping youth groups is not a positive long-term option for the teen or either church.

Has this ever happened to you? How do you handle this situation?

Importantly, do you contact the “other” church and how does the conversation begin?

Graham Baldock is a Youth Pastor from Sydney, Australia and has a youth ministry blog worth checking out atgrahambaldock.blogspot.com

Josh Griffin


26 responses to GUEST POST: Youth Group Double-Dipping

  1. Here’s something we wrote about “dualies”–studens who want to be part of multiple churches….


    I’d encourage conversation with parents, first. That’s what I do. I share our (potential) concern and our general philosophy so that they know we are not in the business of pulling students from other churches.

  2. Couldn’t disagree more. Instead of trying to stop it, shouldn’t you be happy that you have students wanting to go to church more than 1 night per week whether it is to make new christian friends or learn more about the bible?

    Why would you ever contact the “other” church? or try to “Handle the Situation”?

  3. I can’t believe the perfect timing of both these articles. I’ve recently moved to a new church and have currently been thinking a lot about this. Our Wednesday night youth program typically runs over 50 teens, but almost half of them go to other churches on Sunday. They come to us on Wednesday because they either like our program that night better or their home church does not have anything for them on Wednesday nights (I’m in a very small town with lots of “country” churches. I’ve been here 4 months and have been struggling on how to address it. The few of the other churches I’ve talked to don’t seem to mind, but it’s a big concern for me. Thanks Josh, Graham, and Marc for both of these articles.

  4. Come on guys, seriously! Whats next…making every person sign a exclusivity contract before coming to a church service? Take it as a compliment that you are running what I presume is a fantastic youth group and that students are showing up every week. Otherwise it comes across as a blog post that explains how not everyone is welcome at your church.


  5. Chase and Paul….would you be willing to read the article I linked and let me know your thoughts in response to the thoughts/concerns in it?

    There are obviously a million things worse than a student going to multiple youth groups, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to not address…I’ve actually had parents and students receive conversation about this in positive ways, appreciating the caring heart behind what might be perceived by some as un-caring.

  6. Two thoughts here…
    1) I welcome the students short or long term, as a part of them socially developing as a young person with friends. However, I also take opportunities to privately challenge them to become more involved in their “main church”.

    2) What if the same laws that applied to cattle rustlers in the old west (tall tree, short rope..) applied to church staff that actively recruited “people from other churches”? Would that change the level of reverence that we use to approach these situations?

  7. If the goal is to get gets to be present and listen than allowing this to be is an option but if the goal is to transform the students through the word lived out in intentional community like Acts 2, than we have to see a bigger kingdom picture. We cannot ignore that we are feeding consumer Christianity with not responding to this.

  8. I believe this is the same issue my church is facing with giving middle school students options to go to sr high and jr high services. If we cater to personal preference more than what we as youth workers find healthy, then we are not leading. Students don’t need multiple services… In fact, I think we cut the legs out from underneath them when they reach college when we do this. If a student is being spiritually sustained by programs we have a problem. I agree that it’s a problem, no matter what context.

  9. It’s a big thing in our town. I definitely understand the, “What, heaven forbid we stop kids from wanting more Jesus!” mentality.

    I don’t think you need to “have a talk” with the student innitially. I’ve got 9 or 10 that I know are part of other church’s youth ministries on a regular basis, but occasionally come to ours with a friend. I’ve got a couple of my regular students whose families worship elsewhere, but they come to our student ministry and small groups.

    If it grows to be a regular problem where they’re truly double dipping and not merely hanging out with a friend every once in a while, to me, the biggest issue it communicates is what it says about community and being a disciple. I feel like it gives a strong sense of, “pick and choose” consumerism where we allow students to kind of divvy up the pieces they want, and leave the pieces they don’t. One of the major problems we see in “adult ministry” is lack of commitment to being in community. “They bug me.” “They don’t get it.” “They don’t want to have fun.” “They’re too serious.” They whine and float around, never digging in to true community, and as a result, never being pushed. You could say the two are unrelated, but I think at some point there has to be a conversation, and a point where the student is challenged to go 100% in one group, whichever it is.

  10. Great questions here! A few things that I do with “double-disciplers”

    1 – Find out why they are there? Friends? Boys? Snacks? Candy from the ceiling (happened to me)? Deeper teaching? There are countless reasons.
    2 – Honor the heck out of their pastor from the other group. Remind them how great that person is, how fun they are, how good of a Pastor they are. Students forget how blessed they are to have an adult who’s full time job it is to pour into them. Helping them realize how good they have it. I do everything to remind them that they are blessed to have their Pastor in their life
    3 – I connect with the other pastor and let him / her know that they were there because chances are you might have heard the reason they are trying out your group. If that students said they are not connecting with their small group, they aren’t feeling it or worse that they are being bullied you MUST communicate this information.
    4 – Be careful of TIME-SUCK students. I had a former student that would want to meet for coffee multiple times a week with myself and two other youth pastors in the area. He was needy, and would go from group to group leaching leaders, burning out volunteers and zapping resources. I warned the other pastors in the area about the risks of giving out their cell number to this student who once called me at 330am to tell me his elbow was sore and called one of my volunteers 16 times until he picked up the phone at work to ask how his day was going.

    We need to work together to help students settle in a home, to honour and respect each other and to work together to ensure the spiritual growth of our students, even the ones who double dip.


  11. I think this article does a good job to present the complexity of this issue within youth ministry…

    While we never turn a student away who attends another church, I encourage our students to really reach out to those friends and classmates who don’t attend a church at all. Most often, however, when students attend our ministries from another church, it has been because their “home church” doesn’t offer youth ministries or there are major scheduling conflicts.

    I agree with Jon that we should celebrate any student who has the willingness to walk into our church each week, whatever the reason that brought them there, but just as we encourage adults to not “church shop” and commit to a body of believers, we should do the same for students whenever possible. This will require a willingess of leaders to invest time and conversations to get to know an individual, their story, and what their major needs are. Perhaps this will show the cause of their multiple church attendance. In the end, however, we need to decide if we’re content with more and more “church kids” coming through our doors or if we’re really equipping our students AND leaders to connect with the un-churched in our communities.

  12. We have this happening all the time in our community. We have kids check us out from other youth groups. Some juggle between groups, some groups meet on different nights. We are also a surfing/beach culture where everyone just kind of goes with the flow.

    The problem is a student with leadership potential will be divided. We only have 100% to give so if we are divided between two groups we are giving one group 50% and the other 50%. I would rather a student decide where God wants them to invest their life and their spiritual gifts in serving and give that group 100%. They would be far more affective that way. I don’t turn students away. I do let other youth pastors know that one of their sheep is in our pasture grazing. Sometimes I find out the student had issues with the other youth ministry/pastor. So they carry their baggage with them rather than work on dealing with the issue.

    If we give it a stamp of approval I feel we turn out students who will church hop as adults. I’ve also discovered the youth pastors who don’t seem to have a problem with it and tend to get defensive about it are the ones who have groups comprised of 50% or better double dippers.

    If a student is in our youth group any length of time they hear, “We don’t want you to invite students from other youth groups. We want you to reach students who don’t know Christ.” A student who attends a church that doesn’t provide any youth ministry is another critter all together.

    I also think it is up to the parent ultimately if their kid is going to double dip or not.

    That’s my professional yet humble opinion.

  13. I think one thing that can be lost in this conversation is the role of the student’s parents. High schoolers and middle schoolers are still under the authority of their parents; I think part of submitting to their leadership is to be part of the congregation mom and dad are part of–even if it’s small and even if its youth group doesn’t seem to fit with that child’s personality or typical peer group….So I think that parents are giving up their authority too quickly when they let their children decide which group (or groups) to be part of.

    Parents should be the leaders of their children spiritually. Most teenagers aren’t at a place of maturity yet where they can discern what is best or healthiest for them when it comes to discipleship. I think that’s why it’s vital for parents to step up and lead their sons or daughters–to help them see that we are part of this particular congregation because of ___, ___, and ____. This isn’t to bash other churches, but to help a child start to learn about and respect his/her parents’ reasoning behind their joining with a particular body of believers.

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about this dimension of the issue–the role of parents’ authority and how that relates to which congregation a child should be part of.

  14. Geoff. Your approach is great and exactly what we try to do. Find out the motives, affirm their connection to their other, never do anything to appear competitive, and communicate anything that is necessary. Great post!

  15. It could be said of me that I “double dip.” I go to a church near the one I am serving during a time when my church doesn’t offer services. I watch other church’s messages online. I pursue God with people who go to different churches. Why are we expecting our churches to be the be-all-end-all in a student’s walk with God? I have students in my program who go to different churches, and it doesn’t bother me. The body of Christ is bigger than your church or my church. We should be one.

    It doesn’t matter why they are there. They are there. You have an opportunity to show them who Christ is for that night or longer, so do it.

  16. To coin a phrase from Matt McGill “churches don’t own their people”. But here are my two cents.
    I had a student start at our youth ministry, because she was dating one of my core students. I knew what church she was from because I used to attend that church. I also knew, knowing the boy, it’d be a matter of time before he was no longer interested in her. While she was there we loved all over her, treated her like she’d been there for years, and formed a great bond with her. The inevitable happened and they broke up. We still talk but she went back to that church. I have a great relationship with that youth pastor and I told him that I would still be there for her and him if either ever needed me. I’m not there to compete with him, we’re both on the same team.
    I say treat them like yours while you have them, love them up like you’ve known them forever, and when they go let them know you’ll be there if they need you, and partner with their ‘other churches’ youth pastor. You never know that little amount of time they spent at ‘your’ churches youth group might impact them for life. Something for another post but it’s not “my youth group” or “my churches youth group” it’s “His youth group”. I don’t mean to Jesus Juke everyone but I learned awhile ago to take my pride and ego out of it. I’m called to pastor the students God has placed in my life that season, when the season changes it changes.

  17. I’ve noticed this more with our small group program. We’ll get a couple students that attend another church on Sundays but attends our Wednesday night small groups. I don’t like it. Smacks of disfunction. I typically will ask them what other church they attend, usually say I know their youth pastor, and then make sure I got his back. I tell them that youth pastors are like a brotherhood and that because of that, I tell the student that while I’m not going to kick them out, I would encourage him/her to stick to their home church. I tell them that I hope the other youth pastor would say the same thing if one of my student’s attended their church. That way, when I run into the other youth pastor, I can honestly tell them I had their back.

  18. You guys are right – student’s should only be allowed to go to church once per week

    How does that advance the kingdom of God & who hired you in the first place if you have an attitude like this? I am excited every time a new student walks in the door whether or not they go to other church groups. It means they are interested in Christianity and giving me a chance to have a positive impact in their lives whether big or small.

  19. Wow, the triviality of this issue blows my mind, did you all know other Christians are Christians?

  20. There is a big difference between active sheep stealing or cattle duffing and helping people find a place they belong. The answers seemed to be from the position of why would accept someone from another group, not why are they leaving that group?

    I grew up as “the youth” of a church, there was often a 10-15 year age gap between myself and other members of the congregation, but as the son of the congregation chair, I was at youth groups that were too small to grow and would have been much better off spiritually if I had been directed somewhere else. I was 17 before I had regular contact with other Christians of my age and denomination ((the third largest Protestant denomination in the country). I didn’t really know others existed.

    If a child is shopping for the best experience of the night, perhaps you are having too many events for Youth Group and not actively challenging them?

    If they are shopping for where they fit, it is most likely they don’t feel comfortable at home and ganging up to send them back may lead to them giving up all together.

    It can also be a way of bringing friends to Christ, a group of Christian friends choose a youth group where they feel they can bring other friends into the fold, they may come from different churches, but it is much easier to convince a friend to come to a group that has the right critical mass, than one that is too large or small and has only one of the friends for support.

    The question that seems to be missing from most of the discussion is what is in the best spiritual interests of the child?

    Do they need a gap from their parents as almost a mini rebellion in a safe environment?

    Do they not fit in with the bulk of the youth group where they grew up?

    Are you a way of them building on their own personal mission? Do they feel more comfortable to talk about their faith with others in your group than their original group?

    There are many reasons not to stay at your family church if you are more able to be yourself somewhere else. Pressuring someone to stay where they are can lead to them giving up on Christianity all together. I have seen it many times.

    Then again I am influenced by growing up and being a member of grow up and move away congregations (mainly due to housing costs, etc), so my focus is more on what will keep them in the faith rather than what will keep them here.

  21. @ Matthew Jones – That was put in a far more edifying way than what I was writing XD

  22. Just adding that I Probs wouldn’t be saved if I didn’t double and eventually triple dip in high school.
    My church youth was dead but existent, so I tagged in with some mates to to bappoes cos they were alive and kicking, and running on a different night ,I got hooked in to a bible study group there and for several years, and really only started to challenge and make decisions about my own faith because of it. I never eeally felt comfotable in their church services for aome reason tho and, late in high school I started crashing the local CLC youth and really got fed there and owned my own faith serving there. By yr12 I was leading in the Anglican youth on Saturdays attending a bible study each week with the baptist youth and leading in the CLC youth on Friday nights.
    The leaders I had at both the baps and CLC churches were great they really cared for my spiritual development solely the growth of their youth.
    As a result I have grown up with a very balanced and ecumenical understanding of church.
    I love it when kids have a chance to experience different youth to my youth, they come back full of new questions and ideas about God and church and why we do what we do, and as far as I’m concerned answering those questions is only ever uncomfortable if you either don’t know why you do what you do, of if you don’t fully believe in what you do, in either case it is a great chance for you to start answering them yourself…
    Thanks graham for the post!

  23. Our city has seen double dipping drop. Here is an article by Greg Steir that speaks on the foundations that were laid that help reduce dd. http://www.churchleaders.com/mobile/youth/youth-leaders-blogs/163184-5-characteristics-of-a-kingdom-advancing-youth-leader-network.html

  24. I think with culture moving church further and further into the periphery of student’s lives, we should celebrate when student make a choice to connect with God and develop a community of peers doing the same. Celebrate the Church with a capital “C”. Don’t work to steal others from their home church, but celebrate the students that are coming!

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